Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The Delhi High Court overturned a trial court’s earlier acquittal of Kumar and said, “It is important to assure the victims that despite the challenges truth will prevail.”
ThePrint asks: Sajjan Kumar convicted after 34 years: Justice at last or does delay render it meaningless?
Not only judiciary, police system also failed
Senior journalist and author of When A Tree Shook Delhi
The fact that this order came 34 years after the riots shows the failure of the criminal justice system, which includes not only the judiciary, but also the police, who happens to be a vital tool controlled by the executive. There was a great deal of delay in even registering the case against Sajjan Kumar. The first time a case was registered against him by the Delhi police was in 1990, and that too, after much reluctance.
Sajjan Kumar was then acquitted by a trial court, despite the fact that victims testified against him. He managed to get a few police officers to depose in his favour, and that was enough for his acquittal. This shows that the police system is a farce. The trial court found those police officers more credible and reliable than the victims.
There was a failure on both the part of the judiciary as well as the executive.
The case against Sajjan Kumar was also taken up by the CBI only in 2005 after the second Nanavati Commission recommended it. The first Nanavati Commission had also done a farcical job.
This is precisely why it took us this long to get this verdict. The bench today, headed by Justice Muralidhar, finally delivered justice.
Important to note that many witnesses testified years after 1984 riots
Senior advocate who defended H.K.L. Bhagat in trial court
The 1984 riots went on for 4-5 days. After 34 years, the Delhi High Court has convicted Sajjan Kumar. This is the final verdict on the matter, unless the SC overturns it, which seems very unlikely in this case. As far as the decades-long delay is concerned, there are plenty of reasons for it. It is not simply the judiciary.
Many witnesses came in front of the commissions constituted to investigate the riots years after 1984. The trial court had also questioned why the witnesses appeared suddenly and weren’t present in front of the Nanavati Commission. The fact that these witnesses, for whatever reasons, couldn’t testify sooner is also an important point to note.
Several inquiry commissions have been constituted to investigate the riots. This includes the appointment of retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Nanavati, who also gave a substantive report on the matter. This was after one sitting judge had already probed the evidence in detail.
Repetitions of this sort, and formulation of one commission after another contributed greatly to the delay. Not only that, it also led to the casting of doubts on the integrity of the judiciary. These were avoidable delays.
We put our lives on the backburner to fight for Sajjan Kumar’s conviction
Chairperson, Justice for Victims Organisation
There is definitely some sense of relief for the people who have fought for justice over the last three decades. But it would be wrong to say that we feel completely relieved after this judgment. That it took 34 years for the court to convict a man responsible for such horrendous crimes is testament to judicial delay.
We wish that we had achieved this verdict sooner. It would’ve helped several people get a sense of closure, something that is missing now. Had the justice system been better equipped and committed to justice back then, it would’ve made our journey far easier. Had the police been a source of help to the victims and the witnesses, this could have been done earlier.
The bench headed by Justice Muralidhar has shed light on the complicity of the police in the verdict. This shows the lapse in the system.
The fact is that there are others accused who haven’t been convicted yet. Many of us fought relentlessly for Sajjan Kumar’s conviction, and we hope more people come forward and testify against those they feel wronged by.
This hasn’t been easy, we put several things on the backburner to achieve this—our families, our work, everything that is a part of one’s regular life.
For people who were affected by the 1984 riots, this judgment is meaningless
Former Delhi police commissioner
It goes without saying that justice delayed is justice denied. It is difficult to point fingers at only one institution – It’s a reflection on the whole criminal justice system. That the investigation, prosecution and trial of such an important case has taken this long should be a matter of concern.
Initially, the 1984 riots were investigated by the Delhi Police and later transferred to the CBI. We need to look into the entire process if something wasn’t done in a timely manner and to the best of abilities by an agency.
One cannot ignore that the fluctuating power structures also play a part in determining the pace of investigation or trial. It is obvious that someone like Sajjan Kumar would not have been pursued with the same urgency and vigour by the investigative/judicial authorities whenever the party he belongs to was in power. The politics of it all is very important. It inevitably ends up playing a pivotal role in cases such as these.
Ultimately, this reflects very poorly on the criminal justice system. For people who were affected and aggrieved by the riots, this judgment ceases to have much meaning.
Ideally, every case should be treated on an urgent basis, especially one of the kind and enormity as the 1984 riots. But that is never the case, such is the unfortunate state of affairs of the Indian criminal justice system.
Court must dispose of remaining 1984 riot cases at the earliest and not wait another 34 years
Editor, Investigations and Special initiatives, ThePrint
Forget lofty words like genocide, 34 years is too long a time for any case to be decided. And, do remember, Sajjan Kumar still has the right to further legal redress – the High Court judgment can be appealed against in the Supreme Court. Nobody knows how long that will take – at least a few years if the disposal of cases by the courts in recent years is any indicator.
The 1984 anti-Sikh riots will always be a blemish in our modern history, but the fact that it has taken the courts 34 years to convict Sajjan Kumar, doesn’t speak very highly of our judicial system too.
That brings us to the inevitable question: Is our legal system loaded to favour the powerful and the influential? Our judicial system has too many loopholes, systematic gaps that anyone with a good lawyer can take advantage of.
While the Supreme Court recently cleared the path for setting up 12 fast-track courts to deal with cases involving our lawmakers “within a year”, what is also required is speeding up of all criminal cases, especially those that deal with riots and crimes against humanity.
In so far as the anti-Sikh riots cases are concerned, the courts must also dispose of the remaining cases at the earliest. We can’t keep the victims and kin of those killed on the streets of Delhi waiting for 34 more years before justice is done.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint. You can follow her on twitter @khanthefatima.
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